Choosing Your Colo Provider: Steps & Critical Factors

Colocation is complex and its benefits and costs are impacted by a wide variety of factors. Here is what you need to know to make the right choice.

Once you’ve determined that colocation is the right move for your organization, the next step is to select a good provider. Many organizations sign a contract based on brand recognition, marketing promises or because of an existing relationship, but this can be a costly mistake. Colocation is complex and its benefits and costs are impacted by a wide variety of factors. Here is what you need to know to make the right choice.

Step 1: Assemble a list of providers within your desired location range

The location of your provider impacts three main functions:

  • Effectiveness as a disaster recovery solution
  • Latency
  • Ease of access

When determining the radius of your search, take into account whether you intend to have your own people manage your equipment. If so, you will want to choose a location within approximately a 90-mile or 1.5 hour radius, because your staff will make the drive regularly.

If on the other hand, you intend to have the colocation provider also manage your equipment, you can expand to approximately a 400-mile radius. Some organizations expand their search farther, choosing instead to colocate near a major airport and rely on air transportation to access the facilities. It’s important also to consider the location of your intended users, as a distant location can impact latency.

Finally, you may want to consider a location’s proximity to a power grid. The closer the location to the source of power, the less likely it is to lose access in the event of an outage elsewhere.

Step Two: Evaluate providers

With a good list of colocation providers in hand, it’s time to start narrowing them. You can easily rule out any that don’t meet your initial criteria, such as security measures in place, power and network redundancy, and uptime guarantees. With a short list in hand, use the following criteria to evaluate your options. Be sure to download our evaluation checklist to track the process.

Company Experience – A company that lacks depth of experience on its staff may function adequately when times are good, but won’t have the resources and expertise to keep your servers online when faced with a crisis situation. When evaluating providers look for significant experience on the leadership team and a well-trained and experienced support staff.

History of Reliability – Don’t simply trust a provider’s stated uptime record. Expect them to maintain thorough RFO (reason for outage) reports, and ask them to share that data with you.

Then fact-check their records by visiting sites like WebHostingTalk, Outages and Nanog and search for the providers name. Look for extremely low outage frequency, prompt response, at least 99.999% uptime, and transparency from the provider regarding any outages they’ve experienced. These sites are also a great place to check a company’s reputation with it users.

Physical Security – Protection against malicious attacks and data breaches are critical for most enterprise organizations, and one big challenge lies in physically securing the facility where data is stored. Just because a colocation facility calls itself “secured” doesn’t mean it has the latest and most thorough security measures in place.

A strong multi-layer verification process should at minimum include locked external doors, locked internal doors, and locked cabinets. Look for authentication that includes at least two or three factors, such as physical key fob, key codes, and a bio-metric such as palm recognition. Finally, the premises should be monitored 24-7 by video and on-site staff.

Infrastructure Redundancy – Don’t settle for a blanket statement regarding redundancy Due diligence in this sphere will pay dividends when disaster strikes. You want to see redundancy on four key elements.

  • Power: Ask for full A/B power. If redundant sources of power share a path at any point from the curb to the equipment, then it is at significant risk of failure.
  • Cooling: If cooling fails, you may not know it until your server overheats. Look for a provider with not only excess capacity, but also parallel cooling infrastructure with no overlap from curb to cooling system.
  • Internal Network: Inquire regarding the quality of the gear used to connect your servers to the Internet, and request redundant paths to connectivity.
  • External Network: Looks for a provider that has peering arrangements and multiple transit providers to ensure a robust connection from the colocation facility to the worldwide Internet.

Service Level Agreement – A colocation provider that meets all of your criteria will probably also offer a service level agreement, but not all SLA’s are created equal. Read it carefully and insist on one that clearly states the uptime guarantee, with at least 5 nines of availability, and also one that backs the guarantee with significant financial impact to the provider should the guarantee not be met. You should expect a reasonable refund or credit in the event of outage, not merely a few dollars a day.

Other Considerations – Once you’ve narrowed your options to a short list of providers, who meet your criteria on the above factors, check that they also offer accounts tools and additional services you may need. Additional services that can be a benefit are managed services, managed infrastructure, and secondary products such as public cloud, private cloud, seamless topology from cloud to colocation, and dedicated servers.

Colocation Evaluation Checklist
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